A Question Internal to Liberal Theory

Jonathan Quong

in Liberalism without Perfection

Published in print December 2010 | ISBN: 9780199594870
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191723513 | DOI:
A Question Internal to Liberal Theory

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This chapter draws a distinction between external and internal conceptions of political liberalism. While these two conceptions are often conflated by both political liberalism's critics and proponents, they differ in crucial respects. The author argues that we have decisive reasons to reject the external conception, which wrongly imagines that political liberalism can provide a compelling answer to the question: why be liberal at all? Instead, the author argues we ought to embrace the more modest aims of the internal conception. On this view, the aim of political liberalism is to understand how the fact of reasonable pluralism as sustained by liberal institutions constrains the kinds of justifications that members of a well-ordered liberal society can coherently offer to one another. Political liberalism thus has an important, but different and more modest aim, than many philosophers have realised. The aim is to determine the nature and limits on political justification in a well-ordered liberal society.

Keywords: political liberalism; public justification; public reason; Rawls; reasonable persons; realistic utopia; reasonable pluralism

Chapter.  12047 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Comparative Politics

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